Exiled Professors Consider Academic Freedom in Turkey and Syria


Adib Sha’ar, Visiting Scholar at Risk at Harvey Mudd College, addresses the audience in Pomona College’s Hahn Hall on Feb. 1. (Austin Huang • The Student Life)

Professors Eda Erdener and Ahmad Adib Shaar spoke on academic rights violations at Pomona on Feb. 1, as part of the lecture series entitled “Lived Experiences: Free Speech, Academic Freedom and Scholars at Risk in Turkey and Syria.”

Both professors are members of Scholars at Risk, an international network that connects threatened scholars with safe institutions. Currently, Erdener and Shaar are visiting scholars at Pomona and Harvey Mudd College, respectively, and are the only two program participants at the 5Cs.

Students and alumni attended the event for a variety of reasons. Geneva Miller HM ’18 explained that she was not even sure of her reasons for coming.  

“I’m hoping to learn something unexpected,” Miller said. The following lecture set certainly fulfilled this expectation for her and the rest of the audience.

A short introduction was given by Pardis Mahdavi, the chair and associate professor of anthropology and the dean of women at Pomona. She said that academics and scholars at risk are especially vulnerable today, due to the climate of international conflicts, the state of terrorism, and a lack of international discourse.

The talk’s focus turned briefly to the potential consequences of the Executive Order recently passed by President Donald Trump, limiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Academic freedom is under attack everywhere and we have a collective responsibility and right to protect it and amplify diverse voices such as these,” Mahdavi said.

Erdener started the programming by discussing the November 2015 recount election of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in her home country of Turkey. In the aftermath of the election Erdener, along with 1,127 other scholars, signed a petition, Academics for Peace, calling to end the violence and oppression in Turkey.

The petition brought the signatories under unexpected levels of scrutiny when Erdogan said they were “as guilty as terrorists.” 

“There are two camps now. Pro-Erdogan or coup-supporter and terrorist. Our President has allowed no middle ground,” Erdener said.

Shaar then spoke to the current climate of his home in Aleppo, Syria, explaining that the current Assad regime is ineffective and dangerous, although he maintains some hope.

“Syrians have the right to hope for a democratic, non-corrupt regime,” Shaar said.

However, the current regime still practices a double standard: expressing a belief in the ideals of academic freedom and freedom of speech, but behaving in the opposite manner, according to Shaar.

After a brief Question and Answer session, the scholars were surrounded by curious audience members.

Jeremy Tepper PO ’19 said that his original reason for attending the event was to learn more about academia in societies in which institutions of higher education like ours were not as high of a priority. However, he ended up drawing many parallels, even if they are to a lesser degree, between the state of academic freedom here and abroad.

“I think it’s really important for us to understand the [Syrian] conflict on a personal level at events like these … their courage to stand up against what’s wrong is commendable,” Tepper said.

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